The Global View

Resource collapse stands to ‘wipe out’ successes of fossil fuel age

When it comes to making sense of current energy issues, it seems wise to ask, say, a scientist. And one scientist, physicist Tom Murphy from the University of California, offers some valuable insights that go beyond a 30-second news bite on late-night TV.

Speaking during an interview with, Murphy — who also writes a blog on energy called Do the Math — explains why he believes we should be worrying more about resource depletion than about climate change, why we should be cautious about “techno-giddiness” and why he’d “sooner have smart people than a smart grid.”

Some thought-provoking excerpts:

“When it comes to cheap, clean, and abundant, I am drawn to solar. I don’t care if it’s two or three times the cost of fossil fuel energy – that’s still cheap. Abundance is unquestionable, and I don’t see manufacturing as being inordinately caustic. The fact that I have panels on my roof feeding batteries in my garage only confirms for me the viability of this source of energy. Wind and next-generation nuclear also deserve mention as potential large-scale sources. Yet none of these help directly with a liquid fuels shortage.”

“As cautious as I am about techno-giddiness, I do have the giggles for artificial photosynthesis. Combining universally available sunlight (in my own backyard) with a liquid fuel that can support personal and commercial transportation on land, sea, and air with minimal changes to infrastructure is too juicy for me to resist. More so than thorium breeders or even fusion, this is a real game-changer. The catch is that our finite periodic table may not avail itself to our wishes. Groups are now shaking the periodic table by its ankles, hoping that some new and unappreciated catalysts clank to the floor. I’m rooting for them, but at the same time advocate not relying on its realization.”

“(R)esource depletion trumps climate change for me, because I think this has the potential to effect far more people on a far shorter timescale with far greater certainty. Our economic model is based on growth, setting us on a collision course with nature. When it becomes clear that growth cannot continue, the ramifications can be sudden and severe. So my focus is more on averting the chaos of economic/resource/agriculture/distribution collapse, which stands to wipe out much of what we have accomplished in the fossil fuel age. To the extent that climate change and resource limits are both served by a deliberate and aggressive transition away from fossil fuels, I see a natural alliance. Will it be enough to avert disaster (in climate or human welfare)? Who can know – but I vote that we try real hard.”

Click here to read the entire interview.